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30 - Cormac McCarthy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2012

Timothy Parrish
Affiliation:
Florida State University
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Summary

Cormac McCarthy’s (1933–) significance, particularly in his pre–Border Trilogy writings, lies in the refusal of his fiction to be significant, to be meaningful, in the way that American literature generally has intended. His work shies away from depictions of thought or interior mental space, leaving his readers to sort out the motivations of the characters on their own. His language is at times baroque (most notably in Blood Meridian [1985]), at other times stripped back and minimal (Child of God [1973] or The Road [2006]). At the same time, McCarthy is remarkably expert at appropriating the traditions of American fiction in a way that acknowledges them even as he employs them to new effect. He does this sometimes by simply pushing a mode or genre to its extreme. His novel Outer Dark (1968), for instance, toys with the traditions of southern gothic but does so as if the South were actually hell. Blood Meridian imitates the western even as McCarthy cross-pollinates this genre with the spirit of intense viciousness and gnostic philosophy. McCarthy seems both to be bringing one era of American literature – an era tied to more stable notions of character, self, genre, ethics, and order – to a close and to be opening another, this one more interested in the possibilities of pushing the forms and styles to which we are accustomed in new directions.

There is little to suggest this will be the case in McCarthy’s first novel, The Orchard Keeper (1965), which, when it appeared was described as “sorely handicapped” by its “humble and excessive admiration for William Faulkner,” a writer to whom McCarthy is often compared for better or for worse. The first of four novels set in Tennessee before McCarthy turned his gaze to the American West, The Orchard Keeper concerns three characters and a corpse. The corpse is that of young John Wesley Rattner’s father, killed by Marion Sylder and dumped on Rattner’s uncle’s property.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2012

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References

Arnold, Edwin T. and Luce, Dianne C. (eds.), A Cormac McCarthy Companion: The Border Trilogy, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
Arnold, Edwin T. and Luce, Dianne C. (eds.), Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy, Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1993; rev. ed. 1999.
Bloom, Harold (ed.), Modern Critical Views: Cormac McCarthy, Philadelphia, Chelsea, 2002.
Hall, Wade and Wallach, Rick (eds.), Sacred Violence: A Reader’s Companion to Cormac McCarthy, El Paso, Texas Western Press, 1995.
Parrish, Timothy, “Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian: The First and Last Book of America.” From the Civil War to the Apocalypse: Postmodern History and American Fiction, Amherst, University of Massachusetts Press, 2008, pp. 80–116.Google Scholar
Parrish, Timothy L. and Elizabeth, A.Spiller, “A Flute Made of Human Bone: Blood Meridian and the Survivors of American History,” Prospects: An Annual of American Cultural Studies 23 (1998): 461–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phillips, Dana, “History and the Ugly Facts of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian,” American Literature 68 (June 1996): 433–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCarthy, Cormac, The Orchard Keeper (New York, Vintage, 1965)Google Scholar
McCarthy, , Outer Dark (New York, Vintage, 1968)Google Scholar
McCarthy, , Child of God (New York, Vintage, 1973)Google Scholar
McCarthy, , Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (New York, Vintage, 1985)Google Scholar
McCarthy, , The Crossing (New York, Random House, 1994)Google Scholar
McCarthy, , No Country for Old Men (New York, Random House, 2005)Google Scholar

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  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.031
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  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.031
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Cormac McCarthy
  • Edited by Timothy Parrish, Florida State University
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to American Novelists
  • Online publication: 05 December 2012
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCO9781139003780.031
Available formats
×